LENOX, Mass. — If you happen to have been courageous sufficient, there was a time final summer season when you might nonetheless flip into the drive of Tanglewood, the idyllic summer season dwelling of the Boston Symphony Orchestra right here. There have been the standard native youngsters to direct you to your parking area, one pointing the way in which each few yards; the standard state troopers, patrol automobiles idling, there to tip a hat; the standard flowers, lining the trail via the pristine white gates.
However the familiarity stopped there. Strolling via the grounds, saved open and manicured even within the absence of performances, the loneliness was overwhelming. No volunteers, overeager to assist. No ice lotions. No mother and father fretting, questioning how removed from the stage to arrange, secure to settle their toddler when the time got here. Nothing to see, the Koussevitzky Music Shed boarded up, disconsolate; no music to listen to, solely the birds.
Effectively, music is coming dwelling.
The Boston Symphony opened its shortened, little-short-of-miraculous summer season season right here with a live performance on Saturday night time, the orchestra’s first in-person efficiency because the darkish, fearful nights of March 2020, and its first with its music director, Andris Nelsons, because the January prior.
This system was made to please, and please it did, however the environment would have been festive regardless. There have been standing ovations for the orchestra, standing ovations for the conductor, standing ovations for Mark Volpe, the orchestra’s just-retired president and chief government. The gamers, not usually given to outward expressions of emotion, stomped their toes when their chief, Tamara Smirnova, discovered the appropriate key on the piano to ask them to tune.
The authorities had set attendance at half the norm, however the rolling grounds hummed with chatter, garden chairs crammed shut; the entrance rows of the Shed felt full, three-foot distancing or not. There could be no intermission, although the live performance nonetheless lasted almost two hours; there could be no “Ode to Pleasure,” with singing nonetheless banned. I noticed a single masks, amid 1000’s of faces.
By Sunday afternoon, when a second live performance happened, all of it felt oddly regular: college students wandering out and in of the Shed, listening to a bit then leaving to follow, or not; spectators darting for canopy because the rain got here down, giving up on their defenses in opposition to the bugs; the entire place glowing, regardless of the gloom, with the brilliant inexperienced tarps that have been on provide on the door, some defending bottoms from the mud, others shielding picnics from the rain. Priorities.
“Reconnect, Restore, Rejoice,” the entrance of this system e book declared. Nelsons, in his halting, earnest means, spoke from the stage of how the pandemic — seemingly considered prior to now tense, even because the world counts over 4 million lives misplaced — reminded us of “how a lot we’d like artwork, how a lot we’d like tradition,” and of music being “consolation for our souls.”
There could be no revolutions right here, and no memorials both, only a restoration of the ancien régime: an orchestra enjoying what it has lengthy performed, and enjoying it fairly nicely. Beethoven it must be, and the Fifth Symphony, too — the Beethoven of conquer catastrophe, of the human spirit, indomitable.
Close to sufficient, not less than. Absolutely it is going to take time for gamers, even of this high quality, to kind a collective once more, to fill out their sound, to seek out the assault and the togetherness that mark the most effective ensembles. An enchancment from Saturday night time was already audible on Sunday, in a peppy run via of Dvorak’s Sixth Symphony.
Earlier than that, there have been slack moments within the Beethoven, bars when balances have been put aside in pursuit of sheer exuberance, passages that have been allowed to float by a conductor who has appeared to develop extra standoffish as an interpreter since his arrival in Boston in 2014.
However the impact was nonetheless potent, surprisingly not a lot for the influence of the entire, however for glimmers of the gamers let out: the clarinet of William R. Hudgins, so mellow, such a balm; the flute of Elizabeth Rowe, so uncommon in its woodiness; the trumpet of Thomas Rolfs, so rousing at full stretch.
The identical positive subtleties appealed within the work of the soloists on provide, too, neither of them ostentatious. Emanuel Ax is no person’s concept of a spotlight-hugging pianist, preferring to share it or give it away wholesale, however what a delight it was to listen to such discretion in his “Emperor” Concerto — such care taken over the voicing of a chord, such sensitivity in the way in which his proper hand formed phrases in response to the orchestra. Baiba Skride took a lot the identical strategy to the Sibelius Violin Concerto, an affecting account of deep, even forlorn introspection, a lot of it performed inward, towards the violas on her left.
Consolation for the soul, certainly.
The query stays, nonetheless, whether or not this orchestra will resolve to try extra, whilst salaries get well from 37 p.c cuts and losses of greater than $50 million in income solid a shadow over the funds. It has introduced in a brand new president and chief government, Gail Samuel, from the bold Los Angeles Philharmonic; an encouraging quantity of its streaming vitality over the previous 12 months was spent exploring music that it has for too lengthy ignored; and the Symphony Corridor season will provide new works by Julia Adolphe, Kaija Saariaho and Unsuk Chin.
However that season seems dreary in contrast with these being provided by equally tradition-bound orchestras elsewhere. It speaks volumes that scant time was devoted right here to something modern, even when Carlos Simon’s “Destiny Now Conquers” made its mark, throbbing with frantic vitality whereas seeming to run on the spot, with its temporary response to Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony.
The Boston Symphony returns, then — and continues merely to abide.